What Actually Happens if I Die Without a Will? Do I Need One?
Given everything that has happened this year, you might find yourself reflecting on your mortality. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has shaken up everyone’s worldview and made us reconsider our personal health and safety. Still, we know not everything can be prevented and, for some of you, thinking about your mortality might have you thinking about getting prepared. Usually, the first thing that comes to mind is a will, also referred to as a last will and testament.
But what actually happens if you die without a will in place? You might be wondering if you actually need one. Although I am not a lawyer and am not presenting you with legal advice, I do work closely with those in the legal profession to help you ensure that your ducks are in a row. So read on to see what a will does for you and why it’s important – and what can happen if you don’t have one.
What is a Will?
Simply put, a will is a legal document that outlines what happens to your material and financial possessions and property when you die. In a will, you name your executor (or executrix, a female-gendered version of the term sometimes still used) – a person who will carry out the instructions that you have delineated in your will.
Why is a Will Important?
The primary result of having a will is the peace of mind knowing that your family and assets will be looked after in the manner that you desire. The practical result is that your property and assets will be disbursed in the manner in which you have specifically chosen. Your wishes will be respected. This also has an additional positive side effect of decreasing the stress on your next-of-kin who will be greatly relieved that they do not have to make these difficult decisions during a time that they are already suffering your passing.
Not least important, a will also allows you to assign a guardian if you are a parent of a child or children under the age of 19.
What Doesn’t a Will Do?
Wills do not cover anything that you jointly own with a spouse or partner – from property to shared bank accounts. A will is also not the place to delineate your healthcare wishes or comfort wishes for the end of life.
What Happens if I Don’t Have a Will?
If you die without a will, you are considered to have died “intestate.” This is a legal term with prescribed legal repercussions. BC has specific instructions for how your property and assets are divided if you die intestate, as well as what happens to your children.
For example, did you know that if you have a blended family, the amount your spouse gets changes based on the number of shared biological children? Did you also know that if you have no spouse or dependents, your assets automatically go to your parents if they are still living, then to your siblings?
If you do not have a will and have no living blood relatives, your estate will go to the provincial government and an administrator will be appointed by the court to determine your beneficiaries and what they receive.
Without a will, your children will receive a provincially-appointed guardian if your spouse is not alive. Additionally, without a will in place, your children’s share of your estate will sit in trust until they turn nineteen years of age, even if your spouse is still alive, unless specific requests are formally made to the government.
What Do I Do Now?
Either a lawyer or a notary can assist you in drafting your will. If you have minor children or special requests to leave someone out of your will, these professionals will also ensure that the wording is exact to express your wishes. To understand all the implications, please consult your trusted lawyer or contact me to put you in touch with one of my trusted colleagues. This post is part of an ongoing series of descriptions of important documents that are part of being fully prepared for the end of life. Watch for my next post about Power of Attorney.